Judiciary panel plans hearing on FBI failure to investigate abuse of Olympic gymnasts

New report finds FBI failed to investigate early allegations of abuse by Larry Nassar

Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, right, and ranking member Charles E. Grassley have announced plans for an FBI oversight hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, right, and ranking member Charles E. Grassley have announced plans for an FBI oversight hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 15, 2021 at 8:24pm

A week before the Summer Olympics get underway, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee are announcing plans for another hearing on the failure to respond to allegations of sexual abuse against gymnasts. This time, their focus is the FBI.

Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor was convicted in 2017 and sentenced to up to 175 years in prison on charges related to the sexual abuse of minors. But a new report confirms that Nassar’s abuse continued long past when the earliest allegations were reported to the FBI in Indianapolis in July 2015.

That report by the Justice Department inspector general said the FBI field office, “did not formally open an investigation or assessment of the matter.” Beyond that, the IG alleged that W. Jay Abbott, then the special agent-in-charge, made false statements in the course of the review that led to Wednesday’s report.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., on Thursday announced the plan for a hearing, along with ranking member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who chaired the Judiciary committee when it took its first action on the abuse of athletes.

“The IG report confirms my fears that the FBI dropped the ball, allowing abuses to continue for months. The Judiciary Committee’s upcoming hearing is a continuation of our oversight to get to the bottom of this,” Grassley said in a statement. “The FBI owes the American people an accounting for its failure to protect these children, and explanation for how it plans to do better in the future.”

 “The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the Report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization,” the FBI said in a statement Wednesday. “The FBI has taken affirmative steps to ensure and has confirmed that those responsible for the misconduct and breach of trust no longer work FBI matters.”

The bureau also said that the handling of the allegations in Indianapolis were violations of FBI policy on allegations of abuse against children, even as the policies existed in 2015. The FBI added that the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide will make it clear that such claims are handled in a more expedient fashion, with better information sharing.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, both Judiciary Committee members who have been involved in the Senate’s work to combat abuse in Olympic and amateur sports, joined Durbin and Grassley in making the announcement.

Blumenthal and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who conducted a sweeping investigation of the gymnastics scandal and led the crafting of a oversight overhaul of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, suggested during a press call Wednesday that the FBI’s handling of the Nassar allegations, including allegations of false statements to the inspector general’s office, would see significant congressional scrutiny.

“Focusing on the FBI ought to be our priority because clearly its enforcement lapse led to additional victims, which is just a gut-wrenching failure,” Blumenthal said. “USA Gymnastics clearly failed, but so did numerous other institutions, most especially the FBI.”

Moran does not serve on the Judiciary Committee, but he has significant clout when it comes to the relationship between Congress and the Justice Department as the ranking member on the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee. That panel’s current chair, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, has also been involved in the congressional response to the gymnastics abuse scandal from the early days.

Moran said Wednesday that the handling of the allegations against Nassar — to many of which he has pleaded guilty and been convicted — was one of the outstanding issues from the sweeping investigation conducted by Moran and Blumenthal for the Commerce Committee.

“We had a real sense for a long time during this investigation that something was significantly wrong at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Indianapolis,” Moran said.

“I don’t understand how an FBI agent, an enforcer of the law, a person who takes an oath to uphold the law, conducted themselves in a way that was so damaging, certainly to justice but also to the individuals,” the Kansas Republican said. “It saddens me greatly to know now that the FBI can be added to the list of an institution — one that is generally held rightly so in high regard — [that] again failed these Olympic athletes.”